Hey, What About Sommerfeld Village?

Neubergthal gets a lot of love from me. I’m not gonna deny it. But lately, another village has been on my mind. It’s very near to Neubergthal… in fact, whenever we head out that way on the 421, we drive right past it on the 421.

Sommerfeld!

Every time we’ve driven past, we’ve wanted to stop and detour through Sommerfeld, but we’re typically almost kinda sorta late and need to get to Neubergthal, so we never have time. And then I always forget about it.

Meanwhile…

I’ve gotten into the habit of checking the “Mennonite Books” section of the Steinbach MCC thrift shop. I’ve let a few history books slip through my fingers, figuring I’ll “come back for it tomorrow”, only to return and find the book gone. So now this book section is particularly enticing to me; I’m eternally hoping to find the books I failed to purchase when I had the chance.

I’ve long since memorized the contents of this “Mennonite Books” shelf, and race through the store, arrive at the shelf, and stare intensely, willing there to be a new book I really want, waiting for me there. And then, just last week, it happened! I blinked, and realized someone had put a green volume onto the shelf below. The Mennonite village pattern caught my eye. I picked it up. Behold! Sommerfeld Village, by Peter Bergen. I gasped abruptly, then took my treasure and trotted directly to the counter, handed the cashier the required quarter, and hurried home to show Andrew.

I burst into the house, and wrested the book from my backpack. I held it up like a trophy. “Check this out! Sommerfeld Village! You know, that village near Neubergthal that we always want to visit but never do? Here’s a book about it!”

The cover features a map of Sommerfeld, with its intriguing diagonal street.

I’ve gotta say, to come upon this seemingly random road jutting out at a rather disconcerting angle from the 421 is startling to those of us who didn’t know of its existence. 

I love that this village map is the cover of the book, embossed in gold.

Published in 1994, this is a slimmer, some might say more modest volume than the Neubergthal history book. 

It documents all the families that have lived in this village, and includes photos of the various yards and properties over the years, including an interesting arial shot of the lot near the cemetery. (Which I’ve learned has no public access, according to page 15.) 

Page 12 depicts the original housebarn… and the bungalow that replaced it in 1973, noting that this home won second prize in a rural farm home beautification contest in 1984. From my perspective now, here in 2018, realizing what a rare jewel housebarns really are (and how perhaps unremarkable 1970’s-era bungalows are… hey, I grew up in one and I live in one still, I think I’m allowed to say this!)… I have to say that I’m pretty shocked and saddened by this. And perhaps amused. But I have to add that I do understand the thought process: “Get rid of the old, we are progressing!”

Some other aspects of the book that I found interesting:

  • Century Farms. There are so, so many, for a small village! I think the people of Sommerfeld should be congratulated on this…even though this book came out in 1994 and so it’s likely the farms have changed hands once again by now.
  • The break-up of villages and end of the Kagel System.
  • A list of the Conscientious Objectors of Sommerfeld, and where they had worked.
  • Reflecting on the Mennonites’ preference for settling flat, level land.
  • “Families of the Pioneer Era”, documenting the ancestry of the original Sommerfeld pioneers.
  • The reason Heinrich Hildebrand moved away from Sommerfeld: to escape the “endless controversy” (page 101).

Well, thanks to this book, I now know where to find the cemetery, when I visit Sommerfeld someday. The unfortunate thing is that now I also know there is no public access. It’s possible I may attempt knocking on doors. We’ll see if I can gather up my courage sometime in the remaining winter months. Looking forward to visiting, with book in hand!